Andrew Motion ascended to that rarest of lofty spheres in English literature when he stepped into history alongside legendary names like Dryden, Wordsworth and Tennyson by being named England’s poet laureate in 1999. The accomplishment is all more impressive considering that his first collection of poetry, The Pleasure Steamers, had been published less than twenty years earlier.
The centerpiece of that collection is “Inland,” which earned Motion the prestigious Newdigate Prize in 1975. That poem would become very representative of those which the poet produced afterward: lyrically complex narratives generally eschewing rhyme and metrical convention, and which tell a story almost iconoclastically free of the irony which pervades turn of the millennium literature. Developing a connection between the fictional characters populating his narratives for the purpose of creating empathy actually forces Motion to stick to the path of old-fashioned sincerity in his verse. While often political, his poems are never burdened with cynicism. Though capable of engendering a profound sense of nostalgia, he avoids painting his pathos with broad strokes and instead gambles on subtle understatement to produce the desire emotional response.
Since that first collection in 1978, Motion has published fifteen collections of poetry, in addition to nearly as many biographies and critical studies of other writers; he still found time publish several novels while consistently working as a respected book editor throughout his career. That career has also earned Motion a Dylan Thomas Prize, a Somerset Maugham Award, and, in 2009, a knighthood.